In 1991 Levi's aired a TV commercial directed by Spike Lee that featured a young Rob Liefeld as he worked on the comic book X-Force. If you're young it's hard to convey just how mindblowing this was at the time - it was an era before nerds had inherited the earth, before Stan Lee's face was recognizable to most humans. It was a stunner.
As Deadpool opens this week - based on a character created by Liefeld - it's interesting to go back and look at this old commercial. At the time Levi's was doing a campaign where they asked people with interesting jobs to call in; Rob, ever a hard worker and consummate self-promoter, rang them up and soon enough Spike was in his studio, looking over his shoulder.
Here's some more context: Rob was about 23 years old when he did that commercial, and X-Force #1 sold 5 million copies. Compare that to current comics, which sell a few hundred thousand. Now, to be fair, those sales were happening at the height of a speculation boom, when people were purchasing ten copies of #1s, assuming they would be able to sell them and buy a house off the proceeds. That market collapses pretty severely, almost taking superhero comics and comic book stores with it.
When this commercial aired comic books felt more like a secret society and not the prime mover of American pop culture. Turning on your TV and seeing Rob Liefeld and his creations popping up during a sitcom was almost disorienting. In many ways this commercial brought comic books to a wider audience than anything outside of the Burton Batman films. And Liefeld's look - golden California boy - was probably eye-opening to the straight world. Burton, all goth and sullen, looked like one sort of comic book person, but nobody thought comic nerds could look like Liefeld.
Liefeld - and his art - have always been controversial in the world of comic book fans, but it's impossible to deny just how large this guy loomed over it all in the early 90s.